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Big Tex Is Named The Country's Quirkiest Landmark (Of Course!)

State Fair of Texas
Howdy, folks! Big Tex has been named the country's quirkiest landmark.

Big Tex, the beloved but odd State Fair of Texas icon, has been named the country’s quirkiest landmark. 

After four weeks of online voting, the larger-than-life cowboy earned the most votes in the USA Today and 10Best "Best Quirky Landmark" contest. The winner was announced Wednesday. 

Any real Texan knows the history of Big Tex: He used to be a Santa Claus in Kerens before heading to the fair, and has welcomed crowds at Fair Park since 1952. He burned down in 2012 in front of a shocked, horrified crowd, but he was rebuilt in time for the 2013 fair. He talks in a Texas drawl and says “Howdy, folks!” and he moves his mouth and waves.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Tex

Here are seven fun facts about Big Tex, once described as the tallest talkin’ Texan:

1. He’s HUGE. He’s 55 feet tall. His chest measures 33 feet, 9 inches. He wears a 95-gallon hat and size 96 boots. His Lucchese boots are covered with bluebonnets, the state Capitol and other classic Texas scenes. Dickies of Fort Worth makes his shirt (his sleeves are 27 feet long).

Credit State Fair of Texas
Before he was Big Tex, he was Santa Claus in Kerens.

2. Before Big Tex was Big Tex, he was the world's largest Santa Claus in Kerens in Navarro County in 1949. The mastermind behind Santa was Howell Brister, manager of the Kerens Chamber of Commerce. He was trying to get people to shop in his town. Brister sold the Santa to the State Fair of Texas for $750. State Fair officials have long credited R.L. "Bob" Thornton, the State Fair president who later became Dallas mayor, with the Big Tex concept.

Credit State Fair of Texas
One of the earliest sketches of Big Tex.

3. In 1953, Big Tex got his first nose job – his original nose was too long. He got an eyelift, too. One of his eyes had been closed during the ’52 fair. And Big Tex found his voice and started talking to fairgoers in 1953. In 1962, Big Tex was featured in the musical “State Fair” with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret. In 2009, Oprah rubbed shoulders with Big Tex when she taped her talk show at the fair.

Credit Bill Fletcher
In October 2012, Big Tex caught on fire.

4. Big Tex caught on fire in October 2012 an event that attracted national headlines. Around 10 a.m., smoke started to climb up Big Tex. The smoke quickly turned into flames, which consumed his legs and arms. It ate his cowboy hat and then his face. His head was made of fiberglass, making him extremely flammable. Big Tex Circle quickly turned into a shrine. People left flowers and cards. Someone even left a corny dog bouquet. Online, thousands of tributes were posted on Twitter. And on Facebook, someone even set up a Big Tex Grief Support Group. The fire was blamed on faulty electrical wiring underneath Big Tex. Firefighters were called to the scene with this unusual dispatch: “Got a rather tall cowboy with all his clothes burned off.” Listen to dispatchers here:

5. It cost $500,000 to rebuild him. Rebuilding him was a secretive process – learn more about that here.

6. Big Tex has a big butt. Well, it’s a normal-sized rear now. In the past, he didn’t have much of one. Why? His body acts as a trailer – he's laid down when he’s driven to Big Tex Circle, and then a crane lifts him up into place. In the past, a big rear would have dragged against the ground -- which would been painful, ripping up his body. Some workers joked he has a Kim Kardashian-type rear. Actually, it was based on dimensions of muscular male dancers.

Credit State Fair of Texas
The new-and-improved Big Tex was unveiled in 2013.

7. When Big Tex was rebuilt, designers used silicone skin, which makes him seem more lifelike. It feels like chicken skin. Silicone can withstand the sun and heat. Before the fire, his face was made of fiberglass. And when he debuted in 1952, he was made of papier-mache. The silicone also stretches across his face and wraps around his mouth, making him seem more lifelike. Big Tex no longer has a Howdy Doody-type mouth. He has a real jaw – the jaw moves from below the ears, allowing a more natural look.

He'll be back soon ...

Big Tex will be back Sept. 26, when the fair opens at Fair Park. That’s about 90 days from now. Learn all about Big Tex here. And there's more here.

What else made the quirkiest list?

No. 2 on USA Today's list of quirkiest landmarks? A giant replica of a basket in Ohio.

Other Texas classics made the top-10 list, including Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo and the Beer Can House in Houston. 

The top 10 quirkiest landmarks

Drum roll, please …

  1. Big Tex
  2. Longaberger Home Office - Newark, Ohio
  3. Carhenge - Alliance, Neb.
  4. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox - Bemidji, Minn.
  5. Fremont Troll - Seattle
  6. Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
  7. Beer Can House - Houston
  8. Enchanted Highway - Regent, N.D.
  9. Ave Maria Grotto - Cullman, Ala.
  10. Peachoid - Gaffney, S.C.

Can’t get enough about Big Tex? Here are links to all sorts of stories about Big Tex:

Look Back At State Fair Of Texas Icon's Early Years

Look At His New Digs, Even Though State Fair Security Said: 'No Pics'

Kerens, Birthplace Of Big Tex, Is Mighty Proud Of Local Boy Done Good

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.